viernes, mayo 4

The First Indigenous Inhabitants of the Sierra de Juarez

Many years ago the pine tree, pine nut and oak tree left La Rumorosa. Walking towards the coast; after walking for so long, the pine nut got tired and stayed at the top of the Sierra to live. The pine and oak trees kept walking, nearing the settlement of La Huerta, where Kumeyaay Indians still live, the pine tree got tired, and stayed; this is why this place is known as Dancing Pine. Since then, the Cocopah Indian tribe would do the final rehearsals—before arriving to La Huerta—from the 4th of October festivity to which they assisted on a yearly basis.

And finally, the oak tree kept his course, for it had the objective of reaching to all the Kumeyaay tribes to give them acorns to prepare their meals, so it reached all the indigenous tribes of the coast. This is why, currently, all Kumeyaay indigenous communities have oak trees with which they prepare the Shawii (Mashed Acorn)

The Voyage of the Sacred Trees
Kumeyaay Legend

In the steep shelters near La Rumorosa, in sites like 'vallecito' or the cliffs that face the Laguna Salada, many engravings have been left on rocks, leaving testimony of human occupation for hundreds or even thousands of years in what today is the Sierra de Juarez. Most of the paintings and engravings are abstracts or have anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures, mainly with symbolic or sacred meaning to these groups.

The Kumeyaay and Paipai tribes migrated from the mountains into the coast every year, taking advantage of the variety of resources that each region provided. Because of the weather's benevolence, winter was spent in the coast, and the rest of the year back at the valleys between the coast and the mountains. In summer, especially during August, when the pine nut and other seeds collection time and deer and other game hunting time started, these tribes would migrate into the mountains.

Pine resources that are so important for nourishment and art and supplies creation to the indigenous communities from Sierra de Juarez. Photo by Nathan Velasco

According to testimonies like that of Teodora Cuero, the start of the pine nut collection was the time for the tribes from the Pacific Coast, the Colorado River delta and Gulf of California would gather and celebrate the abundance of this resource.

Yes, there we would have a big celebration of the 'Kuri Kuri', it was very enjoyable…there is a path that we would pass through there, and my mom says that when they would come in the pine trees, they didn't arrive in time, so they stayed there. Look, we once, I remember very vividly, we had to depart from here on August 15th, not a day before, not a day after, and it would take us August, September, and on the first day of October, we would come to celebrate October 4th; when the dance ended we would not return until we did not finish collecting pine nuts.

With the arrival of the missionaries and their ways, the lifestyle of these indigenous groups was severely affected, and the groups that would visit the mountains annually, started to settle permanently in villages like La Mision de Santa Catalina Virgen y Martir (now Santa Catarina) on the eastern side of the Sierra de Juarez, and in other settlements near missionary villages like San Antonio Necua and San Jose de la Zorra, as well as in other settlements that are much less accessible like Neji and La Huerta on the foothills of the mountain ranges. Their seasonal nomadic way of life began to disappear near the end of the XVIII century, in the XIX century with the formation of ranches, and in the beginning of the XX century, as told by Teodora Cuero:

In 1940 when the ejido Sierra de Juarez was formed and they started fencing, and new land owners emerged, it no longer was like before; before, it was free and we went there (to the Sierra de Juarez) and collected the pine nuts whenever we wanted. All the indigenous people was there, Santa Catarina, Neji, all of them, the ones from here…Free, free, we were all free since we didn't have fences.

Now a days, there are four descendants of those who left their history in the rocks: Neji, San Antonio Necua, La Huerta and Santa Catarina. Struggling to conserve what little customs from their ancestors are left, like language, knowledge of medicinal herbs, Basque try and pottery. Most indigenous now works in neighboring ranches or collecting Mohave Yucca that is very important for their financial sustainability, and pondering on the challenges to the conservation of the remaining ancestral territory.

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